On This Episode
Past President (2008-2020), Board of Directors of The Planetary Society; Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University; Principal Investigator, NASA Perseverance rover Mastcam-Z instruments
Treasurer, Board of Directors of The Planetary Society; President and CEO, GEOshare
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
Planetary scientist and bestselling author Jim Bell is joined by space entrepreneur Lon Levin to tell us about the MILO Institute, a new collaboration by Arizona State University, Lockheed Martin and other organizations that hopes to make robotic exploration of our solar system much more accessible. Solar System Specialist Emily Lakdawalla takes us to the newly-discovered habitable zone world that’s a mere 100 light years from Earth. What’s Up becomes the new home for space jokes!
- The MILO Institute
- MILO Institute launches a new model for space exploration
- NASA Planet Hunter TESS Finds its 1st Earth-size Habitable-zone World
- Mastcam-Z Cameras on the Mars 2020 Rover
- The Downlink
This week's prizes:
Space stickers including the brand new Planetary Radio sticker AND a Planetary Radio t-shirt from the Planetary Society store.
This week's question:
John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, observed Uranus six times over 100 years before its official discovery without realizing it was a planet. What name did he give it?
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, January 22nd at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
Two dwarf planets each have two moons that rhyme. Tell us the names of those dwarf planets and of their two pairs of rhymin’ moons. Feel free to respond in verse.
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the January 1 space trivia contest:
Your challenge: Create a joke that combines space and New Year’s Eve, Day or the new year in general. Any kind of joke or humorous riddle is fine, but keep it clean if you want to win!
Listen to the show to hear the winning space joke!
Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] A new way to explore the solar system this week on Planetary Radio.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of a human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Cost and lack of experience have generally put planetary science missions out of reach for all but the wealthiest nations and space agencies. That's changing and we'll learn today about a new effort that promises to accelerate this change, putting participation in missions within reach of universities and other institutions around the world.
Two founders of the MILO Institute, planetary scientists, Jim Bell and space entrepreneur, Lon Levin will be my guests. Earth has a newly discovered sister, just a hundred light-years distant. We'll hear about this world from Emily Lakdawalla in moments and we'll wrap this week show with your jokes [00:01:00] about space in the new year as Bruce Betts guides us through What's Up.
Did you know that I write a monthly Planetary Radio newsletter. I have a lot of fun with it, taking readers behind the scenes of the show and it has become one of the Planetary Society's most popular mailings. The next edition comes out on Friday, January 24. You can sign up at planetary.org/radio.
Here's the sampling of space headlines from the latest edition of The Downlink, the Planetary Societies weekly digest presented by our editorial director, Jason Davis. The first ever core stage of NASA's giant space launch system rocket is ready for shipping by barge from Louisiana to Mississippi, where it will be installed in a giant test stand and fired before heading to Florida.
If all goes well, the first test flight will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit in 2021. [00:02:00] The European Space Agency's, Rosalind Franklin Mars rover recently underwent electromagnetic interference testing ahead of its scheduled mid-2020 launch. Whether or not the rover will be able to leave earth this summer depends on crucial parachute testing.
If successful, the rover will join Mars missions from the U.S., China and the United Arab Emirates. And here's when you have to see astronauts aboard the international space station watched from above as the Quadrantids meteor shower, always a tough one to say, rain down on earth. An image shows several meteors streaking through the atmosphere with the northern lights in the background.
There's a link in the January 10 edition of The Downlink that's easily found at planetary.org/downlink. That edition also has a story about the discovery of an intriguing exoplanet. As I said, I invited Planetary Society solar system specialist, [00:03:00] Emily Lakdawalla to tell us about it. Emily, the discoveries from tests, the transiting exoplanet survey satellite are rolling in and the latest, of course, is the latest discovery of a planet that may not be too different from our own. Can we talk about TOI-700 d?
Emily L.: Yeah. It's amazing how commonplace the discoveries of new planets have become. [laugh] It's just one of the most wonderful things about the 21st century. And this is a planet, like many, that are in the habitable zone of its star, which I should define briefly, it's the space around a star in the planetary system around a star in which it's close enough to the star for water not to be solid all the time, but far enough from the star where water won't be gas.
So it's basically the... What people call the Goldilocks zone. It's a, it's an area around the star where water could theoretically exist. And an interesting thing I want to point out about habitable zones that I think not everybody realizes is that [00:04:00] they don't stay static. They don't stay in the same positions with respect to a star over time because the star changes in brightness and, and heat output over time. And so these things actually move over billions of years as the star evolves.
Mat Kaplan: You surprised a bunch of us at the Planetary Society yesterday because like them, I assumed, believe that okay earth, we are the most earth-like planet [laugh] and there therefore we must be right in the middle of the habitable zone. Apparently not so much.
Emily L.: Yes. This is one of the great many reasons why I do not like the phrase 'earth-like planet' to describe what we're really looking for in other solar systems because after all earth we know as the place that is our home, that is covered with liquid water oceans, that has been the habitat for life for 3.8 billion years, but it's actually not in the very dead center of the habitable zone. It's actually quite a lot closer to the inner edge of our sun's habitable zone than the outer [00:05:00] edge.
Um, Venus is not within the habitable zone, but Mars is. So, the sun gets a little bit hotter or earth gets a little bit warmer and and it'll not be all that habitable anymore. Now I do want to calm people's fears, it's not so close to the edge of habitability that the global warming that we should rightly be worried about right now is enough to tip us over into non-habitable, non-habitability. Earth has in fact warmed before, just not this fast and so, you know, life will still exist here. It just may not be so fun for us.
Mat Kaplan: Well that's reassuring. We'll leave that role in our own solar system to Venus, I suppose. Um, let's talk more about this world. It's become part of this. It's still a relatively small club, right, of roughly earth sized planets in that Goldilocks zone?
Emily L.: Yes. I'm, I haven't kept track of how many planets there are. Obviously with missions like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or tests, we'll finding more of them. Um, we're talking about [00:06:00] planets that are not a lot smaller than earth and not a lot larger. They can't be a whole lot bigger or else they start beginning to look like Neptune and Uranus with big envelopes of gas.
So this one's just a little bit bigger. The thing is that the star that it's orbiting is not a sunlight star. It's a much cooler red dwarf. So the habitable zone is located much closer to the star. And this planet that we're talking about is in a fairly quick orbit. It measu... Measures just about a month uh going around at star and what that means, it's so close to the start that it's tidally locked. It keeps the same face pointed at its star all the time, at least it's probably tidally locked, physics tells us that it would be tidally locked.
And so that would be the face that faces toward the sun all the time, constantly gets sunlight. There's a dark side that would face away from the sun all the time. That would probably be quite cold. There may just be a reading of habitability and the kind of twilight zone, a little literal twilight zone all the way around this planet from pole to pole where you would [00:07:00] have both sun and shadow glancing in on on the same regions, keeping the temperature the same all the time. It'd be quite a different place from earth to be sure.
Mat Kaplan: It's fascinating also to me looking at the human side of this, that a lot of the work being done to learn more about this world is coming from pretty young people, graduate students, and even in one case a high school student.
Emily L.: It's very pleasing that they highlighted the role of students in, um, in these particular discoveries. But the fact of the matter is that students, high school undergraduates, and particularly graduate students have been major contributors to research forever, it's just that they didn't use to get credit. So it's really nice to see people finally spreading the credit around. There is so much data, there are so many discoveries being made that scientists can afford to be a lot more generous than they were in the past and we're seeing all of the people involved in working on these research projects, getting named and getting a little bit of the credit for the work here.
Mat Kaplan: And hopefully these [00:08:00] young people are going to be making discoveries like this for many, many decades to come. Emily, thanks very much for making this world that is just a hundred light-years away so much more accessible.
Emily L.: Thank you Mat.
Mat Kaplan: That's Emily Lakdawalla. She is our solar system specialist. Not just this solar system, but the solar systems that we're discovering all over the Milky Way galaxy and she'll continue to join us from time to time here on the show.
Jim Bell is no stranger to Planetary Radio. The famed planetary scientist and author was back at Planetary Society headquarters in early December for a meeting of the society's board of directors. Joining him there was Lon Levin. I had learned not long before the meeting that Jim and Lon are principal players in the creation of the MILO Institute. I asked them to join me in the society's media studio for a conversation about this new organization that wants to make exploration of our solar system accessible to universities and [00:09:00] even nations that could only dream of such involvement till now.
Lon Levin is president and CEO of GEOshare, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. He's also cofounder of the MILO Institute, our topic for the day, and one of the founders of the XM Satellite Radio Service now known as Sirius XM, of course. So Lon I am grateful to you every time I get in my car.
Lon Levin: [Laugh] I am glad that it's the best part of doing it, that the people would get to listen in the car to great radio.
Mat Kaplan: I tell you, I'm there all the time.
Lon Levin: Like your radio too thank you...
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Lon Levin: ... For doing this.
Mat Kaplan: Jim Bell should be familiar to most of our audience. He's the bestselling author of 'Postcards from Mars' and many other... Several other books. Many? I can say many.
Jim Bell: Seven, eight.
Mat Kaplan: That's many.
Lon Levin: It's many.
Mat Kaplan: He's a professor at Arizona State University, the lead institution for the MILO Institute. He directs ASU Space Technology and Science Initiative. He's also principal investigator for [00:10:00] Mastcam-Z, the powerful camera system leaving for Mars, uh, soon.
Jim Bell: In 244 days. Yes person.
Mat Kaplan: Alright, we're going to get back. We'll come back to that cause I want to get a quick status update once we talk about MILO. You're also co-founder and chief scientist for the MILO Institute. Full disclosure, as I've already indicated, both of you are members of the Planetary Society board of directors. Lon serves as treasurer. Jim you are a long serving president and I want to make it clear up front because we.. There will be suspicious minds out there.
I initiated this when I learned about the MILO Institute. I said, "Ooh, we've got to talk about this on Planetary Radio", so thank you for doing this.
Jim Bell: Excellent.
Lon Levin: Thank you for having us. Thank you for initiating the conversation.
Jim Bell: Definitely.
Mat Kaplan: So it says on the website, which by the way is miloinstitute.org, easy and, and we'll put that and other relevant links up on the show page at planetary.org/radio. Here's the, the, the slogan or [00:11:00] your raison d'etre I guess, 'Transforming space science through shared costs and global collaboration'. That's an impressive mission I suppose, right? What's the, what's the sort of elevator speech, the pitch that describes the MILO Institute?
Jim Bell: Now let me try mine first Lon and you can go, you can go second. But...
Lon Levin: Go ahead.
Jim Bell: So the MILO Space Science Institute is a, is a nonprofit that is a associated with Arizona State University and it's designed to test the hypothesis that you can build a consortium of members, institutions, universities, countries, national space agencies that together, using combined resources, knowledge, skills together can do deep space missions to achieve exceptional science. That's really what MILO is all about.
Lon Levin: As, as we observed, if I tell you the origin story a bit... Well it did [00:12:00] start a TPS because as you observe the planetary society [crosstalk 00:12:02], I've been on the board for a while, so has Jim. I came to really admire... I am not a scientist, I'm more of an entrepreneur in space, but I came to really admire two things about all the great scientists and the great minds that I was working with on the board.
And that is that one, they think about grand ideas, they implement amazing ideas, the science that they know with their great minds are just so impressive. That's one thing that they did so well. The second thing that they did so amazingly well is whine about how little money they had from NASA [laughing]. And every freaking board meeting [crosstalk 00:12:43] was amazing to me [laugh] and I said, there's gotta be something better.
Now I'm thinking more on the business side of this. How do we fix this? The good news is, is that Jim and I... Jimmy still does. He invites me to go talk to the ASU students once, once a year and all that, and he says, "I want you to meet Michael Crow". [00:13:00] Now Michael Crow, who's the head of Arizona State University, one of the most brilliant academics in the United States, if not the world.
And what was, what was to be a 20 minute meeting ended up being an hour and a half. Why do we have to keep on doing great space science this one way, which is the government gets a taxpayer money and the big one is NASA, ISA does it too, Jackson, whatever. They all follow the same model. Why does it have to be that way? Can't we essentially do it without the government help and work together collaboratively?
Now we're not talking about building a multi-zillion dollar Hubble, but the idea was, "Is there a compelling space science that could be done...
Jim Bell: Mh-mm [affirmative].
Lon Levin: ... What at, at some more affordable level?". And it's, in our minds, it's $200 million or less that can be spread out among many, many people in the world. And that's the idea. So what we're chasing is there's more compelling space science that needs to get done that's getting done. Two, all these space agencies throughout the world, there's a proliferation of them throughout the world. There's, there's maybe at this point [00:14:00] 40 or 50 of them.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Lon Levin: And the reason why is because every country now that has any kind of wherewithal is saying, "This is gonna help our economy". And so we're taking advantage of the compound space science that needs to get done. All of these countries that are interested in the space, and three, everyone wants to educate their kids.
Everyone sees that having a part of the economy being space will help them. So the motto of the institute, we have three principles in what we're doing and what we're chasing. The three of us said, "Let's see if we could do something different". And that was the beginning of it. And here we are now two years later doing what we're doing.
Three principles, it's gotta be compelling science. Jim bell and his team, but it's Jim who says, "This is compelling science".
Mat Kaplan: [inaudible 00:14:40] No doubt it's going to be compelling science.
Lon Levin: Yes, but it's gotta be compelling science. There's a lot of people chasing grant engineering in space. Engineering gets us the great science, that's the one thing, compelling science. The second thing, it's gotta be affordable in our minds $2 million or less, actually our first mission's a lot less. We'll talk about the, the...
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, we're going to get to that.
Lon Levin: ... The lunar lander. And then the third part of this is it's gotta be timely. [00:15:00] We've got to do something that people will take note of quickly. And what that comes down to is within five years we can do a mission. We think that's how long it takes to get a PhD, whatever. And so it's gotta be the neighborhoods, it's gotta be Mars, Venus, asteroids, the moon. That's, that's where we're concentrating right now. We hope for greater things in the future, but that's what we're doing right now.
Mat Kaplan: It's a good start. So let me just amplify a couple of things. So the reason for the whining, my friend Lon [laughing] is that... And I think your listeners know this, so many missions for planetary exploration are proposed to NASA, to the Europeans, to the Japanese, the Russians, Koreans, other space agencies, and many space agencies around the world. And at least for NASA, for example, something like nine out of 10 missions that are proposed are rejected.
And yet so many of them all basically all of them are spectacular missions. Absolutely. And so there's clearly plenty of space science, planetary science that we can be doing [00:16:00] as someone who's both won and lost those mission competitions. You know, I, I know that the competition is fierce and NASA really likes what we're trying to do because they know that there is so much more to do than they are able to do, just like the Europeans are not able to do everything as well.
So, so there's a real science need. There's plenty of compelling space science to do that's not getting done. And secondly, coming back to this, dozens of, of space agencies around the world now, it's very difficult, especially for new players in the space game. Countries or institutions that are trying to get in their work, their economy, realize, recognize what Lon said, space is part of a modern world's economy and they get frustrated.
We've spoken to a lot with them. We've met with a lot of them in their countries and in international conferences. They get frustrated because they can propose to be involved in a NASA mission or an ISA mission or others, but they don't have any experience. They have lots of interest, enthusiasm [00:17:00] and they may have an industrial and academic base that supports their involvement, but because they don't have the experience, NASA being conservative, the European space agency being conservative says, "No, we're going to pick the folks that we know..."
Lon Levin: It's a catch-22.
Mat Kaplan: Right. So we come along and we'll talk about more about this. You know what? You don't have to compete. This is a member organization. What you have to do is join. You said Lon, you mentioned the word education and I know that that's a big component of what you hope to do. Education, training, workforce development, a couple of magic words.
Lon Levin: Yup.
Mat Kaplan: We'll come back to that.
Lon Levin: Okay.
Mat Kaplan: $200 million.
Lon Levin: That's, That's the ceiling.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. It's not chicken feed.
Lon Levin: No.
Mat Kaplan: But it's maybe half of what NASA would spend on a relatively inexpensive [crosstalk 00:17:47] third quarter.
Lon Levin: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Okay.
Lon Levin: So I really don't want to compare NASA, which has its own economics. So what's short? It really is about the number itself. Can we get enough universities... Space agencies who would be willing [00:18:00] to give money to the universities? But even then if we can split it up among...
Mat Kaplan: Mh-mm [affirmative].
Lon Levin: ... 10, 12 nations, we're not talking about a lot of money.
Mat Kaplan: And there are models for this. I'm thinking of like the international consortia that build the big telescopes, like the new generation of telescopes actually to see first light or CERN and things like that.
Jim Bell: The European space agency itself is an example of those 24-member nations, members joining, pooling resources into a central repository that organizes billion-dollar class mission for them.
Lon Levin: The only difference too to think about it though is it's the university's who are driving it. It's the universities who want to educate their kids in various countries as well as in the United States as well. Those universities and all of them, rather than read about these missions, they're going to now participate in them.
And also we have varying ways that people can participate. You could just be a member for a certain lower amount. You can build a [00:19:00] sensor, you can build one of the landers or whatever. I mean you can go from all different levels, just get the data. We are trying to make it as accessible to as many people as possible and would be clear. There's the MILO Institute and then you can participate in each mission as you wish.
So we have multiple missions going on at the same time. Yeah, we have the $200 million one that's, that's the future. That's the NEOshare. We'll talk about that and then we have others that for actually $1.3 million you can put a sensor on one of the lander, lunar landers that's going to go up soon.
Mat Kaplan: I'll be right back with much more from Jim bell and Lon Levin of the MILO Institute.
Radio Promo: I know you're a fan of space because you are listening to Planetary Radio right now, but if you want to take that extra step to be not just a fan but an advocate, I hope you'll join me, Casey Dreier, the chief advocate here at the Planetary Society at our Annual Day of Action this February 9th and 10th in Washington, D.C. That's when members from across the country come to D.C. and [00:20:00] meet with members of Congress face to face and advocate for space. To learn more go to planetary.org/dayofaction.
Mat Kaplan: Isn't this enabled to some degree by the fact that access to space and spacecraft themselves have become so much less expensive?
Jim Bell: Sure, sure. And, and you know this revolution that's going on in small SATs, cube sets, democratization of all of the things that used to be in the realm of giant aerospace companies, huge federal laboratories, all of those systems, power propulsion, computing instruments, all of that is getting smaller. It's getting smarter, it's getting cheaper. And we have a very much a similar philosophy as say NASA in that we want these experiments to work.
Right? On one level, yes, we're trying to educate students and build workforce and that's all wonderful. But the [00:21:00] driving factor is Lon said is science. Doing science that's not getting done. And we can do amazing science now with much smaller, cheaper, capable spacecraft emissions and we can follow kind of a NASA like philosophy of of design, and test, and review, and all that, and we can keep it at scale at the level that Lon's been talking about.
Part of the reason we can do that is because of our amazing partnership with Lockheed. We in the, in the professional planetary science world are our Planetary Society members. We know Lockheed because Lockheed builds these amazing landers to Mars or these orbiters around around Mars and other planets and all kinds of deep space missions and earth orbital satellites. They have an amazing track record of competence. You know, we're not talking about, "Hey, Lon and I want to go out and do a Kickstarter. Do, do a mission, let's do it".
No, this is, this is a different scale. We need the competence and the experience of Lockheed to build our membership base and convince our members, some [00:22:00] of whom in their countries may be spending a large fraction of their resources devoted to space on on this project. We need to convince them, "Hey, you know what? This is going to work because you've got this, this incredibly experienced and competent aerospace company behind it".
Mat Kaplan: What's in this for Lockheed Martin? It's not the military, it's not NASA. It seems like a departure.
Lon Levin: Well, contrary to popular belief, and I now do work there, but I've had an entrepreneurial track record. XM is the one that I'm most known for, but I'm part of a startup called GEOshare, which is the seven startup that I've been part of and lucky invited me into to do these kinds of things. And so Lockheed, there's an awful lot of innovation that goes on there. That's why they keep on remaining the leader. Rick Ambrose, who is the head of space, he's encouraging as many of these ideas that makes sense.
And he certainly is a big fan of MILO and he's, and he's pushing it. And the reason why is because Lockheed itself is always looking for new opportunities as they should. [00:23:00] Now on this one, this is not the big, humongous moneymaker as some other programs maybe, but it's Lockheed's responsibility in a sense as the preeminent corporation in space to make sure that worldwide there's as much space going on as possible and everyone benefits and we hope there are more and more MILO Institutes that pop up throughout the world.
It's only going to benefit everybody. Lockheed's a leader in a lot of places including this one. And we're just proud to be associated with ASU.
Mat Kaplan: What other kinds of partners are you looking for? I mean you just said countries, other institutions, other nonprofits.
Jim Bell: Yeah, so I think our target audience has been universities, universities that have experience or want experience in space science, space engineering, education that's focused on on space-related topics and issues. So we've talked to, I dunno, 150 different universities around the world and we're also making sure to talk to their national space agencies. Many of [00:24:00] these countries have space agencies.
Now this is a proliferation of space agencies popping up around the world in the last five years. So we make sure to talk to their agencies, make them aware of of the Institute, what we're doing, what our goals are and we're talking to your university folks or maybe we're talking to some corporate folks in their, in their country and they might be coming to talk to you, a space agency looking for some funding to get this going. So making sure everybody is aware of what we're doing and that potential funding lines are open as wide as we can.
Lon Levin: I'm going to give you some examples. I can give you the whole list of people we're talking with, but right now, just as an example, so we're speaking with one country and this country has just started a space agency and even though they have very big hopes, all of a sudden they run into, "There's going to be a lot of money". They have modified their, their interests, and then when they found out about the lunar lander and the $1.3 - $1.4 million sensor, all of a sudden they're very, very interested. And they're also interested, as Jim just said, it's, it's we, we go through the university's first.
We're [00:25:00] always keeping the agencies aware of what we're doing. The agencies go, "Wait, actually, this is why we're doing this. We're doing this because we want our industry to be aware of this and the universities to be aware of this". And we're open, Lockheed is not saying other industries can't be involved throughout the world, obviously friendly ones.
What we're saying is, "Let everyone be part of this". So if a particular country wants to run their part of the MILO mission the way they want to, whoever's part of it, that's great. And also we try to make as much money that they give us that goes through the MILO Institute, goes back into that country. So we'll have a MILO representative there that they'll pay for. We will go back, they'll be in their country, we'll have their mission, they'll get the science first, they get the benefit of it, but they go through MILO to get it.
And then we have as many entities throughout the world who are interested to be part of that collective for that particular mission. Then we'll do other missions and we'll keep on duplicating it.
Jim Bell: That's a really important point that it's not [00:26:00] just ah we're expecting people to show up, write us a check and then we throw that money over the wall and build a spacecraft,
Lon Levin: Right.
Mat Kaplan: Like any member organization, the aggregate, the pool of members combined has much more power than, than any individual member. That combined pool is used... We have to buy a launch vehicle, you know, we have to integrate spacecraft and components in with that launch vehicle. We have to run mission operations. But Lon's right, that's a, that's a small fraction of that pool. And a lot of the rest of that is going to go back to these individual countries or in institutions for their workforce development, for their scientists to process and analyze data, and write papers. For their scientists to work with their engineers or their corporate base to build sensors, instruments, propulsion systems, whatever.
And it's our job as the central management organization to figure out, "Okay, how do we put a spacecraft together? How do we put a mission together from all of these disparate interests, which are all space-related, all science-focused, all of them want to gain the [00:27:00] experience so that they can continue on with their own programs, get involved in bigger missions with ISA, NASA or others. So how do we make that all happen?". And that's kind of our management job as well.
How's it been received? Are you seeing enthusiasm for this concept? I mean this is pretty new, you'd think it might make people a little anxious, but also they have to see the opportunity.
Lon Levin: The anxious side was a year ago. We, we...
Mat Kaplan: Mh-mm [affirmative].
Lon Levin: ... We, we went public at Bremen, at the IC in Bremen.
Jim Bell: We went on a year and a half ago, October 2018.
Lon Levin: October 2018.
Jim Bell: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Lon Levin: And it really came down to, "Are we competing? Who are we competing with?", is... And all that. And we take away money and people, and the answer was, "No". So, there was some noise, but it wasn't much because once people saw that, a. It was a nonprofit coming out of Arizona state, even though Lockheed was working with... As a collaborator with Arizona State University, very upfront...
Mat Kaplan: Mh-mm [affirmative].
Lon Levin: ... There was, there was this like, what's... Just the questions like what you're asking about. What's in it for [00:28:00] them? Why are you doing this? And all that. But once they understood and once we had the comprehensive story, which we do, and we explained how they benefit and we've refined that over the years since we started in Bremen, and went public in Bremen. I can't tell you that there's been too many people who've been negative.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-mm [negative].
Lon Levin: You get the negatives about, "Can you really pull this off?". That was a year ago. Now that we're still around and we are, by the way, about to pull it off when it comes to our first lunar lander mission. And frankly, because we got the prices down with the $200 million was ambitious, we started scaling back and saying, "Let's just do a few less expensive missions". We'll talk about the Apophis Mission as well.
Those are lesser cost than the actual NEOshare mission, which is the mini, mini asteroid mission. But the point of the whole thing is once they saw that it was affordable, once they saw they had a path, once we explained in detail because we thought it all through how they can participate, they see that it's real. I can tell you many, many anecdotes, but the activity is...
Mat Kaplan: Mh-hmm [affirmative].
Lon Levin: ... Is very strong.
Jim Bell: Something like a, [00:29:00] like a 150 or so universities. We've talked with.
Lon Levin: Right.
Jim Bell: More than 35 space agencies we've talked with or met with. Lots of individuals from those organizations.
Lon Levin: 40 letters of intent.
Jim Bell: Right.
Mat Kaplan: Very good.
Jim Bell: Moving towards MOUs. I mean some MOUs are in place [crosstalk 00:29:18] in place already. So it, it's being well received.
Lon Levin: Yeah.
Jim Bell: There is sort of a snowball effect...
Lon Levin: Yes.
Jim Bell: ... With this kind of effort. Right? They want other people, they want to see other people get into it.
Lon Levin: That's right.
Jim Bell: Yeah.
Lon Levin: And they're all talking about it. That's, that's great. That's a great point that others are talking about it in their own meetings and we know that ISA is talking about it and ISA members are very active with us, the individual members. We have a of activity in UK in particular and Italy. I'm not going on and on about all the differentials, but it's been very exciting.
Mat Kaplan: I saw on the website that intellectual property... You hope to follow what the website says is sort of the Hubble bottle, but what does that mean?
Jim Bell: Well, it means that the MILO Institute members [00:30:00] have unique access to data or other telemetry, other information that that they need for a year. And that's what happens with Hubble. Astronomers will write a proposal, you get it accepted, they have a year to work with that data and then it becomes public. In our case, after a year, the data will become publicly available among all the MILO members and then we can... Would be talking with space agencies and others about releasing it more publicly in general.
But the idea is for a limited amount of time, the scientists, the engineers involved have unique opportunity to write juicy research papers, make discoveries about the the objects we're going to in places we're going. And that's basically the way the Hubble Space Telescope works.
Mat Kaplan: So the other side of this, the other part of IP of course is somebody has got a design the spacecraft and come up with the components and the instruments and so on, and so forth. But those are protected as well?
Jim Bell: Right.
Lon Levin: Yes.
Mat Kaplan: Among the MILO partners?
Lon Levin: Yes it is. Yes. All of the, all that will be protected [00:31:00] and we hope because this is an educational endeavor that can be as much sharing as possible. However, if you don't want to share...
Mat Kaplan: Mm-mm [negative].
Lon Levin: ... That's up to you. As long as you're participating, you have the right to do what you want with your IP. But again, it is an academic exercise and we want to make sure that the world is as educated as possible and at the same time respect that people invent things and they want to protect it and, and and benefit from it. That's why each of these agencies throughout the world is going to be doing it. That's why the universities are participating. They're getting a unique benefit because they're putting their resources into the Institute.
Jim Bell: There's lots of precedent for this. Universities deal with this kind of stuff all the time. Patents coming out of researchers and you know, IP issues and all that. So it's... We're not blazing a new trail here, we're just following, sort of, traditional paths.
Mat Kaplan: Alright, let's talk missions. I thought looking at the website that this one that you call NEOshare was going to be the first step. Sounds like, "No". But there is this [00:32:00] wonderful rendering of a lunar lander. Is that going to be the first effort?
Jim Bell: Well, let's, let's back up a little bit. So when we started this, before we publicly released it, we decided among ourselves that we needed to start coming up with some potential missions that we could use to, to gather members, and we had sort of three constraints, right? It had to be a high quality science, we could check things off the Planetary Science Decadal Survey. "Hey, we're going to do this, we're going to do that".
As Lon mentioned, it had to be relatively quick because it's a proof of concept.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Jim Bell: We're trying to test a new model, right? So let's, let's do something relatively close to home, the moon, asteroids near the earth, Mars, Venus. And then third, affordable, keeping it under that couple hundred million dollar cap, which was our early idea for what would be affordable. And that's, you know, in comparison to much larger missions that are done by the traditional space organizations around the world.
Lockheed was heavily involved and we got the Science [00:33:00] Council of MILO involved, studied a lot of different options. One option that we studied was just a... Am I allowed to say, "kick-ass" on radio? [laugh]. It was a kick-ass...
Mat Kaplan: It's a podcast as well. Yeah.
Jim Bell: ... A kick-ass Venus mission [laughing], and it was just spectacular. We couldn't get it into the price point. We should try to do this mission [crosstalk 00:33:19] someday.
Lon Levin: It's on the list, we're going to do it.
Jim Bell: Because it was a Venus mission, we were, you know, Venus to MILO. We were kind of code naming it MILO. It was a secret project we were doing, you know, a code named MILO.
Mat Kaplan: This is the most important question I had for you in this entire conversation.
Jim Bell: [crosstalk 00:33:32] Where did MILO come from right? And Lon's idea was to keep it all caps, so it kind of looks like an acronym, but it's not. It amuses people. They get talking about it and they asked this question.
Lon Levin: Actually just we we'll go back to what you were saying cause it's important, more important. But I want to make a very important point about MILO and that is it is not an acronym and no one's going to make it an acronym. We are different [laughing] than every other organization in space. This is not an acronym. It's a great name. I'm done.
Mat Kaplan: Cause we can go to our listeners [00:34:00] and have a contest to make it into this an acronym [crosstalk 00:34:02].
Lon Levin: Why haven't we?
Jim Bell: We've tried [laughing].
Lon Levin: It has happened. We have a list big list [laughing]. It's not going to get acronized.
Mat Kaplan: Okay. Acronymized.
Lon Levin: Acronymized.
Jim Bell: Anyway, so, so we had this set of missions and the one that rose to the top, and again this is going back to 2018, is NEOshare, which is a single launch of a moderate, medium class launch vehicle that's carrying six small satellites. They could be cube sets, they could be small sets. Six satellites that are independent spacecraft, that are all launched from a deployment ring off that one launch vehicle. Each of them sent on a trajectory to encounter, just as a fly-by, at least one near-earth asteroid.
Some of the spacecraft, because they carry their own propulsion system, some of them could be diverted onto a second. Because it turns out... And this was what our friends at Lockheed on the mission architecture side discovered for us. It turns out any day you want to launch, tomorrow, next week, three [00:35:00] years from now, any day with a medium-sized launch vehicle and the Delta-v capability on one of these typical small sets, any day there's a hundred near-earth asteroids you could fly pass and about 20 comets you could fly pass that aren't too far from the earth.
Mat Kaplan: So something about the threat?
Lon Levin: There's a presence.
Jim Bell: 20,000 known objects out there, right? So any day, and we have only visited five with spacecraft. In one mile emission with six spacecraft, we think we can get eight to maybe as many as 10 but maybe at least eight fly-bys, almost double the numbers spacecraft fly-bys in a single mission. Fly-by do basic science characterization, geologies, topographies and basic composition, mass density, just what are these objects like and sample the cosmic zoo of asteroids.
Of those five missions, we've only sampled a couple of the different kinds of color and mineral classes, and densities, and sizes, so there's a real diversity of objects out there. So, we said, "Hey, you know what? This is going to make an impact". One mission, [00:36:00] relatively affordable, couple of hundred million dollars, really adding to the diversity, which is a major goal of planetary science, right?
Just to understand these primitive objects around us and how they, how they went into forming the planets and where they're coming from and all that kind of stuff.
Mat Kaplan: And more data points is good.
Jim Bell: Right.
Lon Levin: That's the compelling science.
Jim Bell: Right. And then what we discovered, you know, over the course of a year, people are interested in that, but the price point is, it's daunting. It's even a [crosstalk 00:36:25].
Lon Levin: A couple hundred million dollars too, has that proved itself...
Jim Bell: That's right.
Lon Levin: ... As a model.
Jim Bell: That's right. So we came up with two smaller versions. I'll talk about one and then you can talk about the other.
Lon Levin: How about that.
Jim Bell: So the smaller version [crosstalk 00:00:36:37]...
Lon Levin: Of the color car.
Jim Bell: Alright. All right[laughing]. The, the first one is a subset of NEOshare. We asked ourselves if we were to only send one or two satellites instead of six, of course, we could bring the cost down dramatically, we wouldn't need a dedicated launch vehicle. We could do it rideshare for example, but is there a compelling single near-earth asteroids? We wouldn't be sampling diversity [00:37:00] anymore, right?
Could you just go to one object and my bar for science is really high and you know, sampling diversity of 10 objects. Wow, that's spectacular. But just go fly-by one near-earth asteroid? Science Council, we thought about it and the answer is, "Yes, there is in fact one and perhaps only one super interesting object that is worthy of a dedicated low cost fly-by mission", and that's a Apophis.
Mat Kaplan: We know about Apophis. Which has been mentioned many times on this show.
Jim Bell: On April 13th, 2029 which is a Friday, by the way [laughing]. April 13, 2029 the asteroid Apophis, which is four or five football fields in size will fly very close past the earth within about five radii of the center of the earth.
Well within the...
Mat Kaplan: Well within the geo orbit.
Jim Bell: Well within the orbit of the moon. It'll actually fi... fly past fairly close to the moon as well. But well within the geostationary satellite ring where Lon's spectacular XMs satellite ring is located. This is a really close pass, it won't hit the earth, [00:38:00] but it's gonna come really close. It'll be a naked eye object over the Atlantic that night. Seven or eight years later, it's going to come back by the earth. And this object, this particular one always comes back close by the earth.
It's not known. Astronomers don't think it's going to hit the earth anytime soon, but we don't know 10,000 years from now, a million years from now. You know, every time it passes by the earth, it's tweaks our orbit just a little bit. So, what we want to do is take a subset of NEOshare, a couple of these satellites and just fly-by Apophis well before the '29 fly-by.
Our expectation is that NASA, the Europeans, Japanese, others are going to be mounting some significant mission efforts to study Apophis cause this is not only a great science opportunity, but a great planetary defense opportunity. And of course, Planetary Society members know all about planetary defense. It's one of our big staple columns upon which we rest.
Mat Kaplan: Just trying to save the world.
Jim Bell: Absolutely. Absolutely. So big planetary defense implication, big science implication, and we expect that the world's [00:39:00] big space agencies will be doing a lot of stuff in '29. So we want to go Apophis comes by the earth every couple of years, there are opportunities in '23, '24, '25, '26. We just want to do a quick little reconnaissance, relatively low cost, imaging, spectroscopy, geology composition, basic properties, mass density, if we can measure them, and feed that information forward into the big space agencies billion-dollar class missions so they are ready, so they are optimized.
And, and that has gotten a lot of interest and a lot of attention cause the price point there is closer to $50 million. So that's one. And the second one is a, is really a, just a fabulous opportunity because Lockheed is one of the, the commercial lunar payload service CLPS providers for NASA.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Jim Bell: So they're building a, a spectacular lunar lander, the McCandless Lunar Lander that is, has a lot of heritage from their Mars Lander experience at Phoenix and insight. So [00:40:00] they are leveraging that technology to go to the moon and, and they're making available some, some payload space for MILO members at a, at a great, a great price, 1.3...
Lon Levin: 1.3...
Mat Kaplan: Wow.
Jim Bell: Per kilogram.
Mat Kaplan: That is a deal.
Jim Bell: And so, there's an opportunity now for MILO members and it could be a single member, it could be a small consortium of members who want to occupy a certain amount of payload volume, power, mass, data volume, et cetera, to go to the moon just in the next few years.
Lon Levin: And the good news on that one is that we actually have different space agencies and universities now competing. And I don't mean competing like they have to fight, it's more like, "They really want to go on and we want to be on the first one". So to be clear about that one, if there is interest and sufficient interest for another one we'll do... We'll keep on doing other landers.
It's, it's not, not going to stop with just one. And by the way, same with the NEOshare idea, it's only one Apophis, but with the NEOshare with the, with the fly-bys at least eight to 10 we'll do it again. There's no reason why, why if others want to do [00:41:00] that, once we learn how to do it, obviously it'd be cheaper, they can do that too.
And, and, when it comes to the MILO, these are our ideas. Our hope is university... Some the seven Asian universities that work together want to go and have a mission. They want to put it together and they need MILO to to help consolidate or find other partners throughout the world to do this. That's our hope. They'll keep on using MILO as the way to go to space and then they put the money in, the money will come back to their country and we hope this, this model will take off. As well as if others want to do it too. That's fine. This is all about as much compelling space science inexpensively as possible.
Jim Bell: Right. And every member who joins gets a seat on the Science Council. So as joint decisions are being made about destinations, about mission architecture, science goals, all that kind of stuff.
Mat Kaplan: It's a heck of a model. Training, workforce development. I've been here for 20 years at the Society, but even during that period and prior to it I worked for a continuing ed. unit...
Jim Bell: Yep.
Mat Kaplan: ... At a [00:42:00] local California university...
Jim Bell: Yep, yep.
Mat Kaplan: ... And ASU, Arizona State was one of those we always looked at and said, "Oh God, those guys are good". One of the things ASU is especially good at is continuing ed...
Jim Bell: Right.
Mat Kaplan: ... Which, apparently, the work that you'll be doing, the workforce development stuff falls under that area.
Jim Bell: Absolutely. It's... I mean it's obviously we're a major research and educational institution. Our, our charge includes educating the world at whatever level we can, and there's an enormous online program that ASU runs as well. So, an important part of this is helping, especially new entrants in the space game, maybe nontraditional ones, get involved, get the expertise that they need, train students, train staff, train new principal investigators who could lead future instrument investigations or entire missions.
We already have some components and we're building more with MILO of certificate programs and online training programs for satellite telecommunications, [00:43:00] for principal investigator training for, you know, how do you put a mission together? How does their mission cycle work? How do you put a science traceability matrix together that drives your mission towards specific instrumentation and mission architectures? All this, all this stuff is getting developed and our goal is to share as much of that with the world as possible cause it... If we can help lift up more of the world, I mean that's gotta be great thing for Planetary Society members.
It's going to be great thing for planetary science. It's going to be great thing for society and civilization as a whole.
Lon Levin: One of the reasons why NASA likes us, we're essentially creating a farm system. If I can use the baseball analogy is this is a farm system. This is a way that younger talent, newer talent, universities that don't otherwise participate with NASA can get their chops, can learn how to work on a compelling science mission and then have that credential so that when NASA calls out for, "Well, we have this effort and who the universities that can [00:44:00] do it?", they say, "We have experience".
We have principal investigators who have already done this. We'd like to participate in that particular now grander, more expensive mission...
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Lon Levin: ... That maybe NASA is doing or ISAs doing or whatever. That's part of why we're getting support from the more established space agencies cause they know their farm system stinks. They keep on going back to the same universities, keep on going to the same people. Great universities, don't get me wrong, and they do great stuff, it's just that they can do so much more if there was a way to develop the others in the world who are interested.
Jim Bell: Yeah, yeah.
Mat Kaplan: There's one more element to this which makes me think of yet another of our boss, the science guys favorite sayings, which is that, "Space brings out the best in us". The ability of space development, space exploration in general, but I think also what you guys hope to accomplish with MILO to inspire.
Jim Bell: Yes. Right. I mean obviously you know many of these, these members that that we're [00:45:00] dealing with, they, they don't have the experience but they, they see the achievements of NASA and the achievements of ISA, individual nations that have space programs and the, you know, the incredible efforts. You know, the Israelis is trying to land on the moon and, and other countries around the world that are trying to get into this game and how much recognition and it helps inspire their kids, their teachers, you know, their politicians, "Hey, you know what, we're going to be, we're going to play in this game too".
It is part of the world's economic future. Space is every day getting more and more, but it's also part of the inspirational work that nations do to advance science, technology, education and that we're seeing a lot of interest by, by these new new players to get in on that level.
Lon Levin: We are, we feel we're at the right place, at the right time. This is for their society. This is for their country. We are giving them a very practical, realistic path to do compelling space science and rather than just have... [00:46:00] And what we're finding, I don't mean this to be a negative, they, they have great ambition. They start their agencies with great ambition.
Some of them are really well developed countries that have money and then they see how much more expensive it is to actually do the compelling space science, not just the engineering. And I'm not knocking all the universities that can launch all these small sets and all that. It's wonderful that we have. Going back to your other question about how things are getting less expensive so people can taste it. They see access to space, the bar is coming down, but what I think they don't realize is although the bar is coming down to do great things in space, it's still hard.
Mat Kaplan: It's hard. Space is hard.
Lon Levin: Space is hard. It's still requires money. It still requires talented groups like a Lockheed or an ASU. It requires a collaborative effort and that's what we're offering. You can do it. You could do it with your budget, contribute what [00:47:00] you can and now you can actually be part of these kinds of compelling missions.
Mat Kaplan: Gentlemen, we could stop there. But Jim, I want to hear how things are coming along. You said good progress. We're headed toward that launch to the red planet...
Jim Bell: For Mars 2020?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Jim Bell: Yeah, so the the Rover is... Has gone through most of its major with the Gulf thermal vac testing. We had the Rover last month in this big chamber here at JPL and simulated the Martian environment, things work great. Of course there's problems here and there, and they crop up, and they're getting fixed, and as there's in general people pulling their hair out all over the place, that's all normal.
But we're, we're just finishing all that, that testing. The cameras are working great, by the way. Our zoom cameras, Mastcam-Z is working beautifully, great image quality, super happy about that. In the next month or two different parts of the Rover will be, sort of, carefully disassembled and the big, you know, the landing system and the sky crane system. All that's going to get shipped out to Florida within the next few months and, kind of, reassembled for [00:48:00] final testing at the Cape and then buttoned all up into its, into its stack that sits on the top of the Atlas five rocket and launch window opens at 8:44 AM Florida time [laughing] July 17th, 2020 and be delighted we would get a bunch of Planetary Society members out there.
And, of course, the Society is our educational and outreach partner for Mastcam-Z.
Mat Kaplan: Yes.
Jim Bell: So there's lots of stuff available on the Society's website. Maybe you can put that link up in the, in the broadcast as well,.
Mat Kaplan: Sure.
Jim Bell: Um, but, but things are looking really great. The normal kinds of technical problems are cropping up, but we're all feeling very positive about getting in the launchpad.
Mat Kaplan: So, eventually another seven minutes of terror. And then you once again get to roll around on Mars...
Jim Bell: We do.
Mat Kaplan: ... Taking beautiful pictures.
Jim Bell: February, 2021 will be the landing and we're going to Jezero crater, which is a big hole in the ground, former crater Lake with a beautiful delta like the Mississippi River Delta that fans out into it on [00:49:00] earth. These are great places to preserve evidence of of past biologic activity and organic molecules, and we're... So we're kind of rolling the dice that that's going to be maybe a great place to look for that kind of evidence on Mars. And of course, 2020, which we'll get a name sometime soon...
Mat Kaplan: Very sincere. Yeah.
Jim Bell: There's a naming contest that's just completed so that Rover will have some kind of intrepid name. And of course, that Rover is the first... That mission is the first step in Mars sample return. We were cashing these samples, creating these little cigar tube sized cores of rocks and soils and other materials. We'll set them down carefully somewhere on Mars for a follow on Rover in the mid 2020s to go find them, grab them, put them into the rocket that it's wearing on its back, launch that rocket into orbit. And then an orbiter will collect that, maybe a cantaloupe size container for Mars orbit and bring it back to the earth.
And of course, everyone thinks it's really important to... And it is important to get samples back here before people go there so we can understand all the [00:50:00] materials in great detail, the risks in great detail. But also do the detailed biological assays and other measurements of these materials that we just can't do yet on Mars, but using the earth's laboratories all over the world, those samples will use... Will be subject to some of the greatest scrutiny of any extraterrestrial samples ever brought back.
Mat Kaplan: It's that Martian Holy Grail that we talk about...
Jim Bell: You got it.
Mat Kaplan: ... Regularly on this show.
Jim Bell: You got it.
Mat Kaplan: Looking forward to those pictures and movies. Right?
Jim Bell: Yes, videos as well [crosstalk 00:50:28]
Yes, videos. We're testing modes right now of taking video while the Rover's driving, so that should be kind of cool too.
Mat Kaplan: Oh man. That's great.
Jim Bell: Yup.
Mat Kaplan: Rolling across Mars. Thank you gentlemen. Lon, Jim, exciting stuff throughout. I wish you the best of luck with the..
Lon Levin: Thank you Mat.
Mat Kaplan: ... MILO Institute.
Jim Bell: Great to be here, Mat. Planetary Radio rocks [laughing].
Lon Levin: That's right.
Jim Bell: It's wonderful. Thank you. Thank you for what you do, we appreciate it.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you. I'll let you get to lunch [laughing]. I'll be right back with Bruce Betts and 'What's Up'. Time for 'What's Up' on Planetary Radio. [00:51:00] It's the joke edition [laughing], planetary rate. We're laughing already. That laugh that you just heard came from Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of the Planetary Society who's back to tell us about the night sky and he's the one who posed this question that resulted in some good stuff, some good humor from a few of you.
Not very many of you, but a few of you. Welcome.
Bruce Betts: One of these stranger trivia questions I've asked [laughing] cause I looked at it but people rose to the challenge. But we'll get to that in a little bit. How about I tell you 'What's Up' man?
Mat Kaplan: Oh yeah, good idea.
Bruce Betts: Actually no, I'd like to mention something else first, which is I want to make sure people know there's a light sale to update blog from last week by Jason Davis the reports on a technical paper presentation that was given by a Purdue graduate student Justin Mansell. We explain a lot of the orbital evolution and why the perigee and apogee [00:52:00] go up and down and there's even some pretty pictures thrown in for fun. So check it out at planetary.org or [email protected]
Mat Kaplan: That qualifies as a 'What's Up' item, but uh what else is out there?
Bruce Betts: Venus just dominating the evening sky, spectacular in its spectacular brightness over in the west and the early evening. And then in the morning we've got Mars still hanging out near the reddish star Antares and Scorpius making a lovely red-red combination. Scorpius-Antares is to the right of Mars. The two of them will be hanging out with the crescent moon on the 20th which will make a lovely site in the pre-dawn east, that's where you're looking.
And then Jupiter is rising into the lower left of Mars coming up in the pre-dawn east. We move on to this weekend space history and Mat after I believe last week show, you'll be excited to know that in 1747 Johann Bode was born.
Mat Kaplan: [laughing][00:53:00] That's, that's interesting that. It's a nice coincidence that he came up so soon after he made it into the show.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. After Bode's law, which turned out to not really be a law, but basically says that each planet is twice as far as the last planet from the sun, roughly. And it works pretty well until you get to Neptune and then all the other objects and then it kinda doesn't. But he also was instrumental in his prediction of where people looked for Uranus and finding some old observations of Uranus that we will talk about.
Mat Kaplan: Mhmm.
Bruce Betts: Also, 2006 was a big week. Stardust returned with samples from comet and New Horizons was launched off towards Pluto and beyond. We move on to Random Space Fact. So almost a hundred years before Uranus is discovered by William Herschel in 1781, John Flamsteed observed it at least six [00:54:00] times, but didn't recognize it as a planet. But we go farther back, there's possible observations of Uranus by Hipparchus in 128 BC.
And then in 1750 and 1769 the French astronomer, Pierre-Charles Le Monnier, observed it at least 12 times, but it just was moving so slowly, all these people thought it was a star.
Mat Kaplan: That's fascinating. I'd heard a bits of this before, but I didn't realize that it was observed so many times. What a shame that it did work out to for a Flamsteed is it? I think.
Bruce Betts: We'll come back to Flamsteed amazingly enough. But first our serious, serious joke competition [laughing]. So, I challenged you to create a joke that combined space and New Year's Eve, New Year's Day or the New Year in general in some type of way. Any kind of joke or humorous riddle [00:55:00] was to be accepted, had to be clean. How'd we do? Well, I know how we did that. [laughing] We did. We didn't [laughing]. You know, it's a challenge for people, but people I thank you for... Thank you for giving such effort to my mind's weird wanderings. Why don't you tell us about some of the jokes and the winner.
Mat Kaplan: Well you know we don't, of course, have time to read all of these, but I will add my thanks to all of you who took on this challenge. Here's the first of those. It came from our poet laureate, Dave Fairchild, but this time, no poem here, just to joke. "What did Bruce Betts do early on New Year's Day to get rid of the sunshine that came bursting through his window after a night of overly enthusiastic celebration?"
Answer: "He held a LightSail"
Bruce Betts: Like that LightSail.
Mat Kaplan: L.E. yeah. [laughing].
Bruce Betts: Aaaah.
Mat Kaplan: From Robert Johannesson in Norway. The Hubble Space Telescope to the JWST [the James [00:56:00] Webb Space Telescope], "What do you expect to see in the New Year? JWST, "I can't say. I don't have 2020 vision, but wait until 2021 and beyond". [laughing]
Bruce Betts: Aah, aah.
Mat Kaplan: Now this, this third honorable mention actually comes from our winner who submitted a whole bunch of stuff to us, but here is the honorable mention from Mel Powell in Sherman Oaks, California. "Why join the Planetary Society? Who doesn't remember that fateful New Year's Eve when the world's dinosaurs gathered in raucous celebration at midnight and watched the asteroid drop in Times Square. Talk about days of auld lang boom. [laughing]
Bruce Betts: Yeah [laughing]. You know, who doesn't remember it? The dinosaur.
Mat Kaplan: [Laughing].
Bruce Betts: They don't.
Mat Kaplan: Ah, and here is that winner from, from Mel Powell. Here it is. [laughing] "The biggest problem with universal New Year is that I [00:57:00] keep forgetting to write 13.800,000,001 on my checks."
Bruce Betts: Aaah [laughing].
Mat Kaplan: You still write checks Mel? [laughing]
Bruce Betts: [laughing] That's true. We just accepted that without a second thought.
Mat Kaplan: [laughing] I wrote one today. Um, so congratulations Mel. You have won that set of three Planetary Society stickers from chopshopstore.com, which is where you'll find the Planetary Society store. And it's also where you can find the current edition of the Planetary Radio t-shirt, which will, will also be yours, Mel, so congratulations on that. The rest of you can go take a look for it there or you can enter the next contest that a Bruce is going to pose for us because we're going to have the same prizes again.
Bruce Betts: As a reminder almost a hundred years before Uranus discover, discovery. John Flamsteed observed it at least six times. Here's your question, "What name did John Flamsteed [00:58:00] give Uranus when he observed it?". Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.
Mat Kaplan: Ah, you have until the 22nd. That's Wednesday, January 22nd at 8:00AM, Pacific Time, to get us this answer. I hope it was Flim-Flam, I think that would've been great name for a planet. [laughing]
Bruce Betts: [laughing] Man, now I need new question again. No, a little hint, ah he did not try to name it after a Monarch like a Herschel did, trying to name it after King George III. I still think it'd be funny if we had a planet named George.
Mat Kaplan: [laughing] Alright. Well I'm sticking with Flim-Flam. I think we're done.
Bruce Betts: As far as I'm concerned it is now... Uranus is now known as Flim-Flam [laughing] and we won't have those other off-colored jokes that always happened.
Mat Kaplan: Yep.
Bruce Betts: Alright everybody go out there, look up the night sky and think about the humor in your everyday life. Thank you and good night.
Mat Kaplan: [music] Well, you know where I get a good piece of it at [00:59:00] least once every week. It's here with the chief scientist of the Planetary Society, Bruce Betts. And he joins me every week here for 'What's Up'. Doc.
Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. And it's made possible by its members who can't wait to see more of the solar system and our universe explored. And if you feel the same way, join us in planetary.org/membership. Mark Hilverda is our associate producer, Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad astra.